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Archive for the ‘quotes’ Category

In his chapter ‘Refashioning the Clay’ Samuel Wells acknowledges the huge contribution the Big Bang and evolutionary theory have made to science, but cautions against turning them into theology, for “you get a single word answer: survival. The whole dynamic of history mutates into survival; and adaptation that enables survival is called progress. Conflict is at the heart of every encounter, and survival is the reward for those who win the battle.

“But Christianity has a very different answer.

“Christians believe the logic – the logos, or word – at the heart of the universe is not about survival. It’s about death and resurrection. The ultimate future doesn’t belong to those who have fought and prevailed, it belongs to those who have laid down their lives for others.

Samuel Wells, in Learning to Dream Again

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“Here’s what I was learning: secrets are poison. They suck the life out of you, they steal your ability to live in the present, they build walls between you and the people you love.”

Tyler Hamilton/Daniel Coyle, ‘The Secret Race: Inside the Hidden World of the Tour de France: Doping, Cover-ups, and Winning at All Costs

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“The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing. These things—the beauty, the memory of our own past—are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited. – CS Lewis, 1942, ‘The Weight of Glory’

“…that was not the real Narnia. That has a beginning and an end. It was only a shadow or a copy of the real Narnia which has always been here and always will be here … And of course it is different, as different as a real thing is from a shadow or as waking life is from a dream.” – Lord Digory, The Last Battle, p.159-60

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I’ve recently been listening to Bill Bryson’s ‘A Short History of Nearly Everything‘ on audiobook. Superb. It’s simultaneously an overview of the various scientific disciplines and a entertaining history of science, with its many colourful personalities.

I love science and finding out about the world, uncovering mysteries which lead to deeper mysteries. There are so many wonders out there – from the glories of space to the complexity of cells and the magic of quantum particles. As a Christian I love having my brain and imagination stretched, to celebrate and be thankful. There are so many bits of this book where I just went ‘wow’ – and others where I couldn’t wait to ask God what he was up to there!

What comes across in the book most distinctively is Bryson’s wonder – at the universe, our planet and most of all, at life. He seems almost overwhelmed at times by the sheer quantity and adaptability of life, it’s fruitfulness and diversity. Life is everywhere – at least on planet Earth! One of his repeating themes is the fragility of life and the unlikelihood of us being here.  He explains the anthropic principle early in the book (which states that the (or our) universe is necessarily ‘fine-tuned’ to us, else we wouldn’t be here to observe it were so) and he clearly wants to be convinced, but I was surprised how often he emphasises what an amazing number of remarkable coincidences have led to our existence here and now. Again and again he keeps coming across reasons why we shouldn’t be here!

The last chapter of the book is all about the extinctions that mankind has caused and he concludes like this:

I mention all this to make the point that if you were designing an organism to look after life in our lonely cosmos, to monitor where it is going and keep a record of where it has been, you wouldn’t choose human beings for the job.

But here’s an extremely salient point: we have been chosen, by fate or providence or whatever you wish to call it. As far as we can tell, we are the best there is. We may be all there is. It’s an unnerving thought that we may be the living universe’s supreme achievement and its worst nightmare simultaneously.

…If this book has a lesson, it is that we are awfully lucky to be here – and by ‘we’ I mean every living thing. To attain any kind of life at all in this universe of ours appears to be quite an achievement. As humans we are doubly lucky, of course. We enjoy not only the privilege of existence, but also the singular ability to appreciate it and even, in a multitude of ways, to make it better. It is a trick we have only just begun to grasp.

We have arrived at this position of eminence in a stunningly short time. Behaviourally modern humans have been around for no more than about 0.0001 per cent of Earth’s history – almost nothing, really – but even existing for that little while has required a nearly endless string of good fortune.

We really are at the beginning of it all. The trick, of course, is to make sure we never find the end. And that, almost certainly, will require a lot more than lucky breaks.

Bill Bryson in ‘A Short History of Nearly Everything’.

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On 1 Corinthians 1.26-29:

At Corinth – and Paul certainly does not mean only at Corinth – God singled out the poor and the powerless, choosing to begin his work with them, not because God’s love does not extend to the cultural and social elite, but actually for the sake of the wealthy and the powerful as well as for the poor and the humble. God’s love has to reach the strong via the weak, because the strong can receive the love of God only by abandoning their pretensions to status above others. Only when they see in God’s choice of those without status that status counts for nothing in God’s sight can they abandon the arrogance and the vested interests that prevent their right relationship both with God and with others. …

In this passage and its context Paul does something rather remarkable. In the first place, by echoing the Old Testament, he identifies a consistent divine strategy, a characteristic way in which God works, to which the origins of the church at Corinth perform. … This is the God who habitually overturns status, not in order to make the non-elite a new elite, but in order to abolish status, to establish his kingdom in which none can claim privilege over others and all gladly surrender privilege for the good of others. … God raises the lowly and brings down the exalted. God himself not only inhabits the highest heaven, but comes among the humblest of his servants on earth (cf. Isaiah 57.15)

Paul not only sees this as God’s usual strategy in human affairs; he also recognises it paradigmatically in the cross. The claim that God is to be encountered and salvation found in a crucified man – a man stripped of all status and honour, dehumanised, the lowest of the low – is the offence of the cross. This is the real scandal of particularity – not just that God’s universal purpose pivots on one particular human being (though that was stumbling-block enough for the philosophically educated in Paul’s day and the Enlightenment rationalists of our own), but, much worse, that God’s universal purpose pivots on this particular human being, the crucified one

No wonder the rulers of this age did not recognise him. …For those who see God in the image of their own power and status there could be no recognition of God in the cross. And yet the Christ who thus demeaned himself to the depths of human degradation, as Paul says in Philippians 2.6-11, is the one God has exalted to the throne of the universe so that every knee should bow and every tongue confess that he is Lord…  God defined his own kingdom when he exalted the crucified Christ. …

This means that as well  as the outward movement of the church’s mission in geographical extension and numerical increase, there must also be this (in the Bible’s imagery) downward movement of solidarity with the people at the bottom of the social scale of importance and wealth. It is to these – the poorest, those with no power or influence, the wretched, the neglected – to whom God has given priority in the kingdom, not only for their own sake, but also for all the rest of us who can enter the kingdom only alongside them.

Richard Bauckham, Bible and Mission, pp.50-54

[Sorry for the long excerpt – I just thought it was excellent stuff]

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…to help someone in need, a good work may sometimes be left, or a better undertaken in its place. For in so doing, the good work is not lost, but changed for what is better. Without love, the outward work is of no value; but whatever is done out of love, be it ever so little, is wholly fruitful. For God regards the greatness of the love that prompts a man, rather than the greatness of his achievement.

Thomas à Kempis, Imitation of Christ, ch 15.

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Within the large, capacious context of the biblical story we learn to think accurately, behave morally, preach passionately, sing joyfully, pray honestly, obey faithfully. But we dare not abandon the story as we do any or all of these things, for the minute we abandon the story, we reduce reality to the dimensions of our minds and feelings and experience. The moment we formulate our doctrines, draw up our moral codes, and throw ourselves into a life of ministry apart from a continuous re-immersion in the story itself, we walk right out of the presence and activity of God and set up our own shop.

Eugene Peterson puts it plainly – and strongly – in his book ‘Subversive Spirituality‘ (p.5)

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